Astronomers Captured Our Sun in the Highest Resolution Ever | SciShow News

Astronomers Captured Our Sun in the Highest Resolution Ever | SciShow News

[♪ INTRO] When you think about highlights of the night
sky, you’re probably not thinking about the Sun. But depending on where you are in the world, the Sun can create some of the most dramatic
displays out there. Near the poles, charged particles from the
Sun create incredible light shows called auroras, also known as the Northern and Southern lights. These light shows get huge audiences, because
they’re beautiful, and also, they’re really useful for studying
our planet and our solar system. But even with locals, tourists, and scientists
watching, back in 2015, a group of citizen scientists in Finland saw
a new kind of aurora that had never been documented before. And according to a paper published last week
in the journal AGU Advances, their discovery may be more than just a new
spectacle in the night sky. Scientists hypothesized that the unusual aurora came from a feature in Earth’s atmosphere
that we don’t actually know very much about, but the aurora may give us a new chance to
study it. All auroras happen when Earth’s magnetic
field funnels charged particles from the Sun, or the solar wind, toward the poles, where it hits nitrogen and oxygen in the upper
atmosphere. When they collide, the particles in the atmosphere
get a boost of energy, and when they relax back to their natural
state, they let off that extra energy as light, creating colorful bands or lines that stretch
across the night sky. And there are lots of kinds of auroras that
have different shapes and colors, depending on things like where they strike
the atmosphere and how fast the particles collide. So guidebooks help hobbyists tell apart the
different types, but the one discovered in 2015 wasn’t in
the guidebooks. It was green, like a lot of auroras, but it looked almost like a bunch of fingers
stretching parallel to the ground. The group called the new auroras “the dunes” because of the way they appear to ripple like
sand dunes. And their shape was a little surprising. Since Earth’s magnetic field is mostly vertical
near the poles, most auroras look like they stretch upward,
toward space. But the dunes were horizontal. So the group got in touch with a local physicist who wrote one of the aurora guidebooks to
learn more. Except, she had never seen anything like it. So in 2018, she organized a group of people to photograph and document these auroras all
over Finland and Sweden. Once they’d collected the photos, the hobbyists teamed up with the author of
the guidebook and her colleagues at the University of Helsinki to understand
how the dunes were forming. They worked out the altitude by comparing
photos from multiple locations; a lot like how your brain creates depth perception
by comparing the view from each eye. They showed that the dunes were about a hundred
kilometers above the ground, which is pretty typical for an aurora. But they also noticed that you couldn’t
see the dunes if you were directly beneath them, which suggested
that, unlike other auroras, they were pretty thin
vertically. Also, since the light wasn’t continuous, it likely pointed to some unevenness in the
atmosphere that was emitting the light. So scientists inferred that the auroras were coming from a bunch of thin ripples in
the atmosphere. Ripples like this, known as atmospheric waves,
can form for different reasons, but the team figured out that, in this case, they might be a sign of a phenomenon called
a “mesospheric bore.” This feature seems to form when large-scale
winds that blow across our planet change direction
or speed. Bores are still a little mysterious, though. Scientists are working on figuring out the
details of how, why, and where they happen. But the dunes could actually help with that. In the past, scientists had seen bores near
the equator, but not so much at higher latitudes. So the dunes give scientists a brand-new way
of studying them up there. They act as a sort of flashlight that highlights what’s happening at higher layers of the
atmosphere. And these bores, along with other atmospheric
phenomena, can teach us how our own atmosphere responds
to seasonal and solar changes. While auroras can give us an indirect look
at what’s happening on the Sun, a new telescope has given us our most direct
look at the Sun ever. Last week, the National Science Foundation’s
Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawai’i released
its first photos of the Sun’s surface. And they look amazing. They’ve let us see the Sun’s surface in
the highest resolution yet. By getting this close-up look, scientists
are hoping to better understand how the activity on the Sun is connected to
its impacts back home. Because radiation from the Sun can do a lot
more than give us pretty light shows; it can also knock out satellites or mess with
our communication systems. So it’s important to understand it, but it’s also hard because the solar wind
that causes auroras isn’t constant. Sometimes it’s like a gentle breeze, and
other times it can be pretty violent. That variation is tied to the hot gas and
plasma that are constantly bubbling up from the Sun’s
interior. When they reach the surface, they cool off
and they sink back down again. Some of these individual bubbles are truly
enormous: about as wide as fifteen Earths. But a lot of these bubbles are way smaller,
like, just a few kilometers wide. They were way too small for other telescopes
to notice, so we’d never seen them. But this new telescope uses a gigantic, four-meter mirror to resolve bubbles that
are just thirty kilometers across. That’s about five times smaller than we’ve
ever seen before. And these bubbles are important! They’re key to understanding what’s happening
on the Sun, which can give us clues about when and why
it acts up. The telescope will also let us investigate
the Sun’s corona, the mysterious outer region that seems like
it should be cooler than the solar surface, but somehow, is millions of degrees hotter. And given that it’s capable of recording
so much detail, the project’s scientists say that five years
of data from this telescope will contain more information than we’ve
ever gotten from all of our previous solar telescopes
combined. So stay tuned. Because the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope
is just heating up. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
Space, which is produced by Complexly. If you want to keep imagining the world complexly
with us, check out Animal Wonders hosted by Jessi Knudsen
Castañeda. Animal Wonders is an animal rescue and education
facility that cares for nearly 100 exotic animals and wildlife that
can’t survive in its natural habitat. Every week on the Animal Wonders YouTube channel, Jessi features different animals and shares
what it’s like to keep them happy and healthy. Recently, Jessi and the Animal Wonders team
took in Tigli the arctic fox. If you’d like to learn all about Tigli’s
story and find out how he’s getting along with
the other foxes at Animal Wonders, you can follow the link in the description
to a video all about that. [♪ OUTRO]


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